208 B- POLEVOI Piqued by his companion's scepticism, Vitamin said to him challengingly: "If you like, I'll ask him. Think I'm afraid? Want to bet?" He detached himself from the rest and sidled up to Meresyev, slowly, cautiously, ready to dart away in an instant, like "Submachine-Gunner" on the hospital win- dowsill. At last, standing strained, hunched like a runner on the mark, he ventured to ask: "Comrade Senior Lieutenant, what kind of feet have you got, real ones or wooden? Are you an in- valid?" The small boy saw the airman's eyes fill with tears. Had Meresyev jumped up and yelled at him and gone for him with his funny walking-stick with the gold letters on it, he would not have been surprised, but to see an Air Force lieutenant cry! He did not so much realise as feel in his little heart the pain he had caused this soldier with the word "invalid". He silently drew back into the crowd of children, and the crowd vanished as if it had melted away in the hot air that smelt of honey and heated asphalt. Alexei heard his name called. He jumped up at once. Anyuta stood before him. He recognised her immediately, although she was not as pretty as she looked in the photo- graph. Her face was pale and tired, and she wore a tunic and top-boots, and an old, faded forage-cap perched on her head. But her greenish, slightly bulging eyes looked at Meresyev with such brightness and simplicity, they radiated such friendship, that this girl, a stranger to him, seemed to be an old acquaintance, as if they had played in the same courtyard together as children. For a moment, they gazed at each other in silence. At last she said: "I pictured you altogether different." "How did you picture me?" asked Meresyev, feeling unable to drive the not very appropriate smile from his face.... "Well, how shall I put it? You know, heroic, tall and strong. Yes, that's it, and a heavy jaw, like this, and, of course, a pipe in your mouth-----Grisha wrote so much about you!"